Giving Thanks

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We are soon approaching the time when our country observes Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was intended to be a time to reflect and give thanks for all the wonderful blessings we share. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, it has just turned into an opportunity to eat one or more over-sized meals.

Bible believers recognize that God has never set aside one day for us to give thanks– He intends for believers to be people constantly marked by thankfulness. As Paul indicates, God’s will for us in Christ is to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18)!

Giving thanks is a humbling experience, for it teaches us how indebted we are to God. If it were not for God’s blessings toward us, we would not have the heavens or the earth (Genesis 1:1-2:4), the opportunity to have association with God through Christ (Romans 5:1-11), the love and comfort of our spiritual family (1 Corinthians 12:12-28), or the hope of eternity beyond this life (John 3:16). If it were not for God, we would not exist (Acts 17:28); without Christ, we would be hopeless, lost entirely in sin, and waiting for condemnation (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:11-12)!

Therefore, when we give thanks, it is hard to be proud or to believe that we are “self-made” people. When we give thanks, we learn again how we are weak and God is strong and how we need to trust Him and lean on Him, and not trust in ourselves (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:9, 12:9-10)!

Giving thanks should also be an encouraging and uplifting experience that should assist us in keeping a proper perspective. It is easy to get discouraged and distressed in our lives, and it is easy to fall into the trap of letting our discouragement distort our perspective in life. But when we give thanks, we are forced to no longer focus on what is going wrong and what we do not have but instead to focus on all the things that God has done for us in this creation and through Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:3). When we consider the great cost of our salvation which God freely paid, it is much easier to trust that God will also be faithful and helpful in the comparatively minor challenges we experience in life (cf. Romans 8:32). When we consider all that God has promised and accomplished, and see what God is doing, we can look with hopeful eyes toward that which God has promised for our future (cf. Romans 8:18). When we stop and realize all of these wonderful things that God has done, is doing, and will do, the “light momentary affliction” we are experiencing will be put into its proper perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17)! When we truly recognize how God loves us, how can we but rejoice in the Lord always (cf. Philippians 4:4)?

It is good and right for us to give thanks during this holiday season– and after this holiday season, and at every opportunity. It is good for us to give thanks lest we begin to take God’s current blessings for granted and succumb to the travails and distress of life. Let us always give thanks for the wonderful blessings of God and strive toward the goal of eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conformity

For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

And be not fashioned [conformed] according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

Conformity involves taking the shape of one’s surroundings. A simple way to see conformity in action is to consider a glass of water: if the glass is tall and thin, the water is tall and thin. If you pour the water into a short and wide glass, the water will take on that shape. If the glass spills, the water spreads over the surface of the ground. It would be an odd day indeed if water no longer took the shape of its environment!

Many people have a very uneasy feeling about conformity. For the most part, being called a “conformist” is not a compliment. Nevertheless, everyone, to some degree, is a “conformist.” Everyone follows some type of pattern! Many young people seek to free themselves from the “conformity” of their parents and/or the “system,” but in the process conform themselves to the “groupthink,” habits, and styles of their peers. Even “nonconformists” conform to something, even if it is not the “standard” mold!

The Bible makes it clear that everyone conforms to something. In fact, there are only two forms to which we can conform: to the world (Romans 12:2) or to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Conformity to the world is easy: it does not take much effort. You can just “go along” with the flow. Conformity to the world may take on many forms. It may mean that you blindly follow the customs and traditions of your family. It may involve the repudiation of those traditions for other views. It could be just based on cultural conditioning and accepting the prejudices and norms of early twenty-first century America. It might involve following after popular religious trends or forms of “spirituality” that are not consistent with the revelation of God in the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). Or it may be blazing your own path and doing what you think is right. All of these, and many more, are simply different ways to conform to the world and its thoughts and lusts (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). They may be easier to handle in life, but they come with a heavy consequence in death (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!

The more challenging path is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. His way is truly counter-cultural and against “conventional wisdom.” Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:25-28). He was humble, and declared that the humble would be exalted while the exalted would be humbled (Matthew 23:12). He loved everyone, including those who hated Him (Matthew 5:38-48). He ultimately expended His life for God’s purposes, and challenged His followers to do the same (Matthew 16:21-25).

Conformity to the image of Christ is difficult indeed. It requires constant growth and work and all of our resources (2 Peter 3:18, Galatians 2:20). We must constantly and honestly compare ourselves to Jesus our Standard and work to better reflect Him (2 Corinthians 13:5). It may lead to persecution, temptation, hardship, and perhaps even death. Yet, while it may be difficult for the time being, it cannot be compared to the eternal weight of glory that await those who are conformed to the image of Jesus the Son (cf. Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)!

That’s the choice with which we are all faced. Shall we just go along with the crowd and conform to the world? Or shall we stand against the corruption of the world and be conformed to Christ? Eternity hangs in the balance. The path may be difficult, but let us be conformed to the image of Jesus the Christ, and obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Labor

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Even though we may not always enjoy it, we recognize the value of labor and effort.  It seems that people rarely can get away without expending effort or labor. Most of us have to labor in order to make a wage to survive.  Yet even those who no longer have to labor still tend to engage in various forms of effort, for charitable purposes or toward hobbies or some such thing.  While people can spend a short amount of time doing very little, for most, that gets old and boring after awhile!

This is understandable, for human beings are designed to work.  Even before the Fall, God created man in order to work to tend the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).  After the Fall, perpetual effort for food was part of the curse given to men (Genesis 3:17-19).  Ever since, people have recognized the necessity of labor in order to provide for the necessities of the family (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 1 Timothy 5:8).  Those who are lazy or unwilling to work earn the scorn of people in all sorts of societies (2 Thessalonians 3:7-14, Proverbs 19:15)!

Labor, therefore, has value.  Yet ever since the Tower of Babel, mankind has been attempting to make name for himself and not be scattered through his projects of labor (Genesis 11:1-4).  Man attempts to find personal meaning from their labor, and seek to believe that their labor has lasting, perpetual value.  Yet the Preacher tells us that, on our own, our labor will not last, we will not be remembered, and everything will continue as it was (Ecclesiastes 1:7-11, 3:9-10, 4:4-8).  This is not to say that labor has no value, but we should not presume that everything we do, on its own, has lasting value.  The Preacher also encourages people to find (temporary) value in their labor, and to do with all their might what their hands find to do (Ecclesiastes 3:13, 22).

If we seek to find permanent value in our labor, it must come through God in Christ.  God’s efforts and God’s purposes are the only things that last forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15).  When our labor is done for God’s purposes and for His Kingdom, even the seemingly trivial daily tasks can take on eternal significance (Matthew 6:33, Ephesians 3:10-11, 5:23-6:9).  Labor that is done for Christ’s purposes is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)!

It is important that we labor according to God’s purposes, providing for our families, being full of works deemed good by God, and in so doing storing up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).  Let us work for the Master!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Light Momentary Affliction

For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Forty lashes.  Beaten with rods.  Stoned and left for dead.  Shipwrecked three times.  Floated in the sea for a day.  Imprisoned.  Constant danger.  Suffering thirst and hunger.

These are the sufferings enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 that Paul personally experienced for the sake of the Gospel.  How many of us can say that we have suffered even one of these difficulties?

In comparison, our sufferings are minor.  We may be derided for our faith.  We may be laughed at or dismissed.  We may even lose a job or two.  Under some circumstances we might be physically beaten.  We suffer setbacks in our finances, relationships, and in our health, and these cause us great distress.

While our sufferings may not compare to Paul’s, nothing prevents us from having his attitude toward them.  He described them as light momentary affliction.

If he can consider being stoned “light,” how should we look at times when we suffer persecution?

If he can consider being lashed and shipwrecked as “light,” how should we look at our own physical difficulties?

If he can consider nearly starving as “light,” how should we look at our financial difficulties?

Paul is not really attempting to diminish the difficulties involved with suffering: suffering poses great challenge and trial of our lives and of our faith.  Yet, in comparison to the glory that awaits us from God, we can understand that we experience is very light.

Therefore, when we go through difficulties in our lives, let us be humbled by the sufferings that others have suffered for their faith, and have yet persevered.  When we go through difficulties, let us be encouraged by recognizing that the glory of the resurrection and being with God and Christ will make our sufferings pale in comparison.  The worse we suffer, the greater that day will seem!

Ethan R. Longhenry